Book Review: Nicholas Sparks’ “Every Breath” Shines, But Misses Opportunities

On October 16th, Nicholas Sparks released a momentous work as “Every Breath” became his 20th novel released to the masses. It was his 22nd work overall, including a memoir written with his brother Micah, and a non-fiction work co-authored with Billy Mills.

On October 24th, I finished reading my 20th Sparks novel and 21st Sparks work overall (I’m missing only Wokini, the non-fiction work that was actually Sparks’ first release). To say I’m an expert in the works of Nicholas Sparks would be boastful and untrue; however, since I’ve been reading Sparks for over 15 years, I can honestly tell you that while I enjoyed this book, it is certainly not the best we’ve seen from him.

Sparks tries something entirely different from any of his other novels: he bookends the story with a fictional character named…Nicholas Sparks, a writer who happens to come upon the story of Hope Anderson and Tru Walls, and decides he needs to write about it. The average reader who skips the “Acknowledgements” and “Author’s Note” sections will be fooled into believing this was based on a true story, but tucked right at the end, Sparks admits that it’s not.

Sparks is certainly not the first author to attempt this; however, this insertion doesn’t add to the story and the illusion of it being based on true events is whimsical, but also unnecessary. If anything, the attempt takes up valuable pages that could have been devoted to more details regarding Hope and Tru’s story — incidentally, the fictional Sparks says he initially wrote more regarding their story but decided not to include it; this reader wishes that he had.

The love story takes place over two separate time periods, spread 25 years apart. In 1990, two strangers happen to meet because they find themselves visiting neighboring cottages on Sunset Beach. While the harsh critic might say the neighbor angle weakens the power of their love, I prefer to believe that it alludes that love can happen anywhere, at any moment.

Almost immediately, Sparks shows the deep connection developing between the two characters, but also mixes that with the conflict (exes and the long distance, among others) that the reader should expect to rear its head later in the story. And while the initial connection is brief — the characters are only brought together initially for less than 5 days — Sparks again shows, as is a constant theme with his works, that love does not follow a clock, and that a spark between two souls can ignite very quickly.

But once the initial connection ends, the story loses momentum. Sparks struggles to fill in the 25-year gap by telling the reader what happened leading up to the 2016 present time, rather than showing. Time jumping can be an effective narrative as long as the reader is not left questioning what happened in between. I’d have preferred to see chapters devoted strictly to important moments between  time frames, rather than learning about them in a conversation between two characters.

The story does eventually regain its momentum, but it is halted once again too soon when the fictional Nicholas Sparks reappears to end the story. As I turned the last page of the story and began reading the Sparks perspective, I thought “Oh, it’s over already? Oh, okay,” secretly disappointed that there would no more pages dedicated to Hope and Tru. Without giving too much away, I certainly felt there was more to say, or more that could be said, rather than abruptly ending the story where it did.

Sparks certainly knows how to carry momentum from beginning to end. And while I prefer a love story that also adds an element of suspense ala Safe Haven, The Lucky One The Guardian, I enjoy a story that focuses purely on love as well, ala The Notebook, The Choice or Dear John.

Though Every Breath contains the elements Sparks fans have come to know and love, with the tenderness and sweetness only Sparks knows how to write, the story had a hard time holding momentum for me, a quality that is crucial for any reader. Bottom Line: A little more Author Sparks and a little less Fictional Sparks next time. 

That Time We Asked for Prayers and Received Accusations

There’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time now, and I think I just need to write about it and put it behind me once and for all.

On the morning of October 7th, 2017, my wife and I received a phone call from parents. Our son, who had spent the night, was crying and they couldn’t get him to stop. He had slipped and fallen in the bathroom, looking for his grandmother who was in the next room. My wife, J, quickly got dressed and drove over to check on him while I watched our youngest (luckily they live close) but unfortunately, she could not get him calmed down. He was complaining about his leg, but because he was so young, he couldn’t articulate exactly what the problem was. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance where after x-rays, we discovered he had fractured his right femur. He was then transported by ambulance to a different hospital that could cast his leg (apparently our local hospital can not do that for a young child).

It was 10 days before his 2nd birthday.

This, however, is only the beginning of the story.

My wife, J, and I were shocked. Stunned. Scared. We reached out on Facebook updating our son’s condition, asking for prayers. Our son was writhing and screaming in pain and there was absolutely nothing we could do. My in-laws, equally distraught, blamed themselves. What could they have done differently? Their grandson had run back the hall, as he had done a hundred times before (you can’t stop 23-month olds from runnings) and been fine. They were absolutely not to blame, J and I had no ill feelings toward them whatsoever, but the damage had been done. Any parent or grandparent knows it doesn’t matter if it was an accident or not. You will always blame yourself.

So too, it turns out, does Protective Services. You see, when your child is two years old and goes to a hospital for a severe injury, an investigation is automatically launched regardless of the reason. While we waited for the doctor who would be putting on our son’s cast, two strangers in street clothes marched into our hospital room, without manners or sympathy, and said they had to take a picture of our son “for the record.” My insides pulsed with rage. I wanted to tell them to get the hell out. But anger wouldn’t help. It was bad enough we were all being treated as guilty first, ask questions later. Even justified anger can be used against you. We knew who these people were; the local hospital had reported our son’s broken leg as potential child abuse case. They had to: it was their job.

As our son was not in our care at the time, the investigation was launched against my in-laws, who were labeled as “alleged perpetrators” in a letter we received from CPS, Child Protective Services. The investigation, as it was explained to us, had 2 potential outcomes: founded or unfounded. Unfounded was our best option: it meant there was no reason for CPS to believe that child abuse existed, but still it would remain on my in-laws’ record for a year before being expunged. But a year for nothing? It still didn’t seem right.

A home visit followed with a caseworker assigned by the county. She asked questions of us, which were honestly answered by all parties. After all, we had nothing to hide. Nothing about her questions surprised us, except for a piece of advice she gave us: don’t speak of these events on Social Media. Someone had seen our Facebook post asking for prayers, and reported it to the county as potential child abuse.

My eyes nearly dropped out of my head. My heart sank. And any anger I felt before towards the individuals taking pictures of my injured son were nothing compared to what I felt now. My wife and I were betrayed, at our weakest of moments, and we would never know by whom.

It could have been one of my “friends.” Or one of J’s “friends.” Or maybe it was a “friend” of a “friend” who just happened to see the post (You don’t always have to be “friends” with someone to see their posts). We would never know.

Here’s the thing: I understand that certain individuals are in professions where they have a duty to report such incidents. For examples, teachers are supposed to report such events if they would see it at school. But a)this was not in anyone’s professional setting and b)if you are in one of these professions, you should also be smart enough to know the hospital was going to report it anyway.

The move felt vengeful. Pointed. As someone who likes to believe in the good in people, I lost hope in that. I found myself becoming paranoid, making lists of who could have possibly done it. I also developed a healthy fear of social media. While I didn’t delete Facebook, I stopped posting almost altogether, and certainly no longer post about my children, including photos. And while I don’t find myself thinking about that incident much anymore, I guess I never really got over it. I still feel hurt. Angry.

To the coward who took our request for prayers and used it against us: I still can’t say I forgive you, even though God has taught me that’s exactly what I should do. Instead, I feel bad for you, that you feel what you did was acceptable, justifying as “what’s best for the child.” Because you clearly don’t know me, or my wife, or my in-laws. If you had reported and then talked to us, I would be angry, but less so. If you had come and talked to us about it before making some anonymous bullshit phone call, you would understand how much we love these kids. All of us. Instead, I see you as nothing but a malicious coward, whose objective was to tear down people you clearly don’t know. And for that reason, I feel bad for you. But at this point, I’m still hurt. And I don’t forgive you. Not yet, at least.

Luckily, my son made a full recovery. The case was labeled 3 weeks after the accident as Unfounded. And while it was a rough experience for all involved, we’re better for it. Closer, even, as a family. Our son is not afraid to run and be the curious boy he should be, nor will he ever remember that pain he was in, of which I am grateful. My wife and I get to see two happy, healthy carefree boys every day, and I thank God for that. And my in-laws remain two of the most loving, caring grandparents they were before. I worried the incident would change the kind of grandparents they were before, but I’m glad those worries were for nothing.

But posting pictures and updates about my kids on social media? That’s a thing of the past. Facebook isn’t worth it. Kids grew up happy and memories were made and shared before Facebook ever existed, and those same memories will be made and shared when Facebook eventually crumbles under its own weight.

For me? I just need to get back to writing. To believe in the good of most people. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to be pessimistic. I want to rise above that. Maybe this blog post can be the first step in moving beyond that horrible incident. Maybe seven-and-a-half months of brooding is finally enough.

Until Next Time,
Milo

 

Overwhelmed

It is with a great burden upon my shoulders that I come out of the shadows and share my first post in a while.

My wife, who is due to give birth to our second child in less than a week by the way, just got fired from her job yesterday. With various doctor appointments and a company that doesn’t offer any sick time, she was able to save up a little over 40 hours of vacation time (about a week) for the ~eight weeks that she is going to be off. So we were expecting to be tightening the belt for a little bit. But now the 40 hours she scraped together is gone, and so is the promise of a job to come back to.

(If you’re wondering if she “deserved it,” let’s just say…she didn’t. Long story short, she basically got tattled on by a fellow employee by doing something that other people have already done [including the tattletale!], and rather than being calm and rational and say “Well, this should not be the practice,” they decided to do the irrational thing and fire one person, instead of at least 3 people that could, nay, should, have been fired for doing the same thing. Bottom line: she was fired because they didn’t want a vacant position for the next 8+ weeks. Call it what you will, but when you fire someone that close to their pregnancy, the true reasoning speaks for itself. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to cover legal fees to drag them through the mud.)

We’re not really sharing this news right now with others, except for family. However, as this is a blog written under a pen name, I figured it was okay to share here.

I’m in a state of shock right now, at the nastiness of people. Who does this to someone? At first, I was just blinding angry when she called me, crying and telling me the news.

Picture this. You’ve been wondering for the past several weeks when your 2nd born kid is going to come. Your first came at 37 weeks because your wife battled high blood pressure in the last couple weeks of pregnancy. You sit in the hospital, scared about the health of your wife and, later, your son, who is born with under developed lungs and spends 10 days in the NICU, and takes years off your own life. So when the second pregnancy comes along, you wonder again: will the baby be healthy? Will she stay healthy?

Then you get blindsided. Your wife, who is now 37.5 weeks pregnant, calls you, hysterical, and you’re completely helpless. Why isn’t anyone helping her? Why doesn’t anyone care? What kind of people do this?

I went from anger to a kind of numbing feeling all day. I want to believe in the goodness of people, but when things like this happen, you see how cold some people can truly be.

Truth be told? I guess I feel sorry for them more than anything.

I’m not super concerned about the money, if I’m really honest myself. Sure, it’s scary…but I have a decent paying job that will (mostly) cover us if we shore up a few trivial expenditures. And my insurance is covering the pregnancy. We have some savings too, and if she finds something else — which I have no doubt she will. She’s smart and a social dynamo — in a reasonable amount of time, we’ll bounce back no problem.

I guess I’m saying I’m overwhelmed because I’m wondering….is this a God moment? And if so, who is it for?

Is it a God moment for my wife? Was it time for her to move on and she needed a good kick in the pants?

Is it a God moment for me? As someone who always wants to be a good provider for my family, is God kicking me in the pants and saying “You want to make some money with your writing? Well then do it, ya bozo.” (And yes, in this case, God would absolutely use the word “bozo.”)

Or is it a God moment for us? Our family unit? A moment to come together, a moment telling us both to better ourselves?

I guess I’m overwhelmed with the timing of it all. And also trying to understand how callous certain people can be. If you have any insight on that, please let me know.

Thanks for reading. If this does turn out to be a kick in the pants, which I desperately need, I hope to stay in touch soon.

-mp

 

 

Where Were You When…A Life’s Journey Through Books

So the beginning of this is going to be a little strange, but just go with it.

So I’m trying to lose about 15 pounds before the new baby comes in July. To do so, I need to change some dieting habits, i.e. drink less soda, consume less sugar. My problem is if work gets a little slow, I’ll eat and drink more, but I don’t eat healthy. I eat cookies, or food from McDonald’s, and I drink soda. A lot of it.

So this past Tuesday, the brilliant dietitian that I am, I decided I would eat cauliflower and drink water. Which, aside from going to the bathroom more frequently (which I hate!), it was working well…until about 7:oo that evening when someone started poking me with a million knives. It turns out eating an entire Ziploc bag of cauliflower may be healthier in theory, but it’s not going to make you FEEL better in the long run.

So of course I ended up doubled over in the bathroom. And I couldn’t help but be reminded back two years ago when I turned 30 and had to go through my first colonoscopy. And as anyone will tell you, the worst part about the colonoscopy is the preparation of cleaning yourself out the night before, which basically means drinking something that tastes like bathroom cleaner, but is really a powerful laxative that leaves you in the bathroom for hours on end.

And, this of course, reminded me of “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell for the simple reason that this was the book I was reading at the time, and I remember how powerful it was, and immediately upon finishing, I had to look up every other book she has written because one just wasn’t enough.

And this got me thinking about the power of books, and how they’re with you through the ups and downs of your lifetime.

Like when I was in my early twenties, and me and my best friend KG decided that after ten years of friendship, we would try dating. (But if I’m being honest, I mean KG finally decided she wanted to date me, because I had been trying that for years) And anyone who knows anything knows that when you date your best friend, it could go either extremely well, or extremely poor. And unfortunately, our courtship went sideways almost out of the gate, and was also the beginning of the end of our friendship as we started growing even further apart. It was also around Valentine’s Day and I was beyond devastated, reopening old wounds and thoughts that I would never find the one. Not sure I was ever going to get out of the abyss, I picked up “Bluesman” by Andre Dubus III, and almost immediately became engrossed in this coming-of-age story about a teenager in a different time period, but for some reason, the story resonated with me so personally in that moment, and I couldn’t have asked for a better story to get me moving again.

Before that was of course the Harry Potter craze, specifically JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I was 22 at the time, fresh out of college, and temporarily living in Northern Virginia at the time, isolated from friends and family, but venturing out on my own, really for the first time (I don’t count college). I ordered the book through Amazon, waited for it to deliver around 10 am on a Saturday morning, and then I did nothing but read the entire day. This gargantuan, 800-900 page book, but I couldn’t put it down, because I needed to know what happened before the media floodgates broke and ruined the ending, and I finally finished around 7 or 8 that night, exhausted but relieved. Sometime in the afternoon, I chowed down on some fish sticks, but never put the book down.

I mean….Don’t You Just Frickin’ Love Books?! 

Of course, I won’t ever forget being 15 years old. My mom took me and my sister to Waldenbooks and we were each allowed to pick a book. And for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I was drawn to one in particular, “A Bend in the Road” by Nicholas Sparks, and I don’t remember ever devouring a book so quickly, and being a hopeless romantic who couldn’t get a date in high school, Sparks made my heart ache by describing love that I was missing. Sparks is also responsible for my own writing journey, as his ability to evoke deep emotions within me that I didn’t know existed, created my own personal desire to write and do the same for others.

Years later, my girlfriend’s mother would give me a book she thought I would enjoy. It was called “A Perfect Day” by Richard Paul Evans, and was the story of a writer who was just starting out, getting his first book published. Suffice it to say that Evans was successful in not only writing a great book, but hammering home the point that writing was exactly what I should be doing with my life.

This is only a small sampling. I could talk to you about “Every Day” by David Levithan, or The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Or we could beckon back even further to anything by Roald Dahl, RL Stine’s “Goosebumps” series, the quirky stylings of Dr. Seuss, particulary Marvin K Mooney, Will You Please Go Now and Green Eggs and Ham, which I read religiously every time we had to go to the doctor’s office. But my point in writing this blog is simple:

Books are always there for us.

Through good times and bad times, books are there. They let us forget about our troubles if for only a few hundred pages. They inspire us to be better people. They make us laugh when we don’t want to, cry when we really don’t want to. They help us to find what we’re looking for, when we didn’t even know we were looking for that particular thing. They connect us to others, and help open our eyes to events to which we were previously ignorant.

Why do I want to be a writer, you ask? Because of everything I just said. To inspire and help others in the same way countless authors did, and continue to do for me.

I have never been more sure of what I was meant to do.

 

 

Annual Report: Catsby for a Cause

We’ve all done some soul searching.

There are several opportunities throughout the year for us to do this: birthdays, vacations, New Year’s. Life also presents us opportunities to do this when certain events occur: loss of job, new job, end of a relationship, death. These moments of deep self reflection are like the Annual Report of your life: where did you succeed, where did you fail, what can you do differently in the coming year, etc.

With the New Year now 25 days old, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. The new president has a lot of people doing soul searching, which may or may not include updating their passport and preparing to flee the country. I myself am not worried about the new regime. And it’s not because I voted for Trump; it’s simply because there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s going to happen whether I like it or not, so instead I choose to reflect on the events that I can control.

I’m 32, with 33 rapidly approaching. I have a 15-month old, and my wife and I will be welcoming a new baby later this year in July. It’s going to be scary and exciting all at the same time. Selfishly, I worry about how much more sleep I’m going to lose, how much hair I’m going to lose, and how much stress I’m going to gain. Selflessly, I pray that I can rise to the challenge of being a great dad to two kids (under two, no less), not just one, and still be a great husband to a wife who deserves the moon and stars. But always, when I reflect, it comes back to writing. And as usual, I find myself disappointed.

2016 actually saw some great strides in writing. While I was unemployed for the first 3 and a half months of the year, I was able to write about 90% of a children’s story that had been brewing in the back of my mind for over a year. Seeing it come to life on pages, I have the confidence that it can be a hit if I can find the right agent/publisher combination. Later in the year, over the summer, I completed a 8,000 word short story to enter into a contest for Wattpad. The story, which is the best short story I’ve ever written (I prefer writing novels over shorts, to tell the truth), did not win the contest, but I blame that less on the story, and more on the parameters of the contest. The story gave me hope – hope that I still have what it takes to make it in this business, and hope that one day I’m going to see the success I’ve craved for over 15 years.

But beyond these two accomplishments – and a few blog posts – my writing more or less stagnated. I could sit here and tell you that it was because of a job change, and having a small child to raise, and wanting to spend time with my family, and being busy on weekends, etc. All of that would be true, and all of that might be enough for some people. But it’s not enough for me, and it hasn’t been for a while.

I make excuses, and then I vow to make changes when I soul search. And it usually works…for a month or so, and then I fall back into old habits. You could could argue that it’s because I don’t really love writing, because if I did, then I would just do it. I wish it were that simple, I really do, and maybe it is. But I don’t believe that. Not yet.

I’m only 32 years old, but my window for doing this might be closing, especially with a brand new kid on the way. Time is oh so precious, and I’ve wasted a lot of it.

I don’t make resolutions, because when I fail to reach them, it only depresses me. I’m not going to make promises that “it’ll be better” this year, because circumstances can change, and the promises I would make now might not be the ones I can fulfill later.

But I do have some plans. 

Building on the momentum I started in the first six months of 2016, I plan to finish the children’s story I started, and begin to tentatively shop it. But before I do that, I’m planning on posting my short story “The Nine Lives of Jay Catsby” online at Amazon for purchase. The plan is to shop it at $2.99; this obviously seems incredibly steep for an unknown writer, and for a short story. But I have my reasons: I will be donating all the profits of this story to the ASPCA, and according to my research and communication with Amazon, I can make a bigger profit (70%) if I charge at least $2.99, which would mean more money to help animals. The project is going to be called “Catsby for a Cause” and I will be revealing more info regarding this on here as it becomes available. The reason I want to write, in addition to inspiring people, is to give back, and this seems like a good way to start.

There are two big quotes that have been running in my head lately, and I think they will end up being my mantra for 2017. The first is “Be the change you want to see in the world,” which is attributed to Gandhi. It doesn’t need further explanation, but basically we can either complain about how the world is, or we can do something about it, and guys, I’m done complaining. So I’m going to do something. Something good.

The other is the song “Try” by Pink. Specifically the chorus which is as follows:

“Where the is desire, there is going to be a flame,
Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned,
But just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re going to die,
You gotta get up and try, try, try.”

Pink obviously wasn’t talking about trying to get published (why would she?), but the message is clear: Look, you might fail. You might get burned. But you’re never going to know unless you put yourself out there and see what comes back. Part of me has been afraid to see what is going to come back by putting myself out there. Part of me is afraid things are going to crash and burn, and that everything I’ve dreamt up in my head will turn into a nightmare. But I have to stop being afraid. I need to put myself out there once and for all.

I hope for big things in 2017, but I’m not promising them. But I need something more. And everything in my life is telling me that Writing is that something.

So How Hard IS it to Find a Literary Agent?

In a moment of pure frustration a couple of years ago, when I was unable to find/successfully obtain a literary agent, I wrote up a few jokes that the every day writer would understand…and maybe even enjoy.

So if you are down on yourself because of a recent rejection, or if you’re stuck trying to reach your word count today during NanoWriMo, take a moment to enjoy these short jokes that only writers will understand!

A writer walks into a bar and asks for a beer and a literary agent. The bartender hands him a cold one and says, “On the house, cuz you’ll never get the other thing.”

A writer finds an old dusty lamp and gives it a rub. A genie pops up and says, “I will grant you one wish, anything you want. What’ll it be?” The writer says, “I want to be a published writer, so I need a literary agent. So my wish is to find a literary agent.” The genie holds up his hands and says, “Whoa, kid. I’m a genie, not a miracle worker.”

Two paramedics roar onto a scene and find a man who has been stabbed multiple times, and a guy just sitting there with a notepad and a pen. They say, “We only have enough room for one of you, and this guy looks pretty bad. What’s wrong with you?” The guy with the notepad says, “Nothing! I made the call because I witnessed the whole thing and wanted to stay with him. Take him! I’m just a writer who is looking for a literary agent.” The paramedics grab the writer and shove him into the ambulance because he needs more help.

A doctor walks up to a troubled family. Their daugther is in a coma. He puts a hand on the mother’s shoulder and says, “Don’t worry. Your daughter is going to be just fine. She is going to wake up any minute now. This is just temporary.” The mother, overcome with joy, begins to cry and says, “Oh, thank goodness! We were so worried. We love her so much! Our daughter has such great aspirations and we want her to be able to achieve them. You see, she wants to be a writer and was looking for a literary agent before the accident.” The doctor stands up suddenly, walks over to the coma patient’s bed and pulls the plug. He turns back to the family and says, “Geez, you should have said something earlier.”

A burglar sneaks into a house. His face is covered with a black ski mask, and he is dressed in all black himself. He walks into the homeowner’s study and sees a man working diligently at his desk. He points a gun at the man and yells “Freeze! This is a holdup! Don’t try anything funny, and everything will be okay.” He begins to tie up the man. The man, shaky, whimpers, “Please don’t hurt me. Take anything you want. But if you could, please leave the contents of this desk. I was working on a query letter when you got here. I just finished my novel and am looking for a literary agent.” The burglar stops mid-tying and stands up. He pulls off his mask and says, “Ahh, man. I’m sorry. You have enough problems. I’ll go rob the people next door.” He then vanishes into the night.

Surviving Mondays

Let me just tell you: Mondays are exhausting. First of all, you’re tired because you’re getting up earlier than you did over the weekend. Secondly, despite the extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings Time, your schedule still isn’t normal, so you’re still tired.

Thirdly, Mondays are the busiest day of the week at work. So today in 8 hours, I ran 300 transactions: that includes customers, and mailed-in payments. That averages to just about 38 transactions per hour, which means I’m running a transaction at a pace quicker than every 2 minutes. But that’s not even the half of it, because sometimes you get a break of customers–which just means you’re doing other side work, not actually resting–so that pace turns into quicker than one transaction every two minutes. It could be multiple transactions per minute!

Fourthly, the leaves are piling up quite quick and I’m trying to stay ahead of the game. Let me just Leaves are the bane of my existence. What else is the bane of my existence? Glad you asked! Here’s a quick list:

  • Leaves
  • The Philadelphia Eagles (because they enjoy throwing games away)
  • People who say “Books are dumb” or “I don’t have time to read” while they are watching “Real Housewives” or some other reality show
  • Typos in books, Typos in Emails from superiors, and just Typos in general

I’m sure there are more, but that’s a quick list. So I come home from a long, busy day, only to go outside and try and control the leaf population (which is a constant losing battle).

So yeah. Mondays are, all in all, exhausting.

But I told myself I was going to try and write on Mondays, so here I am. Luckily, I made some progress on a non-fiction piece this weekend, and I’m excited to finish that soon. Also, I’ve been reading one of my new books I got to help build my platform. It’s called “Your First 1000 Copies” by Timothy Grahl. I think it’s going to be pretty useful in the long run, but in the short run, I have my doubts. For instance, one of the tips Grahl uses in order to gain viewership and keep in touch with your readers is to use an e=mail list on your blog with incentives, so they will know exactly when your new books drops. I think this is a good idea, but here is my problem: no one can see my e=mail list if they are not coming to my blog in the first place. So that’s obviously an issue. I also know that WordPress covers some of the subscribing issues, but that requires a WordPress account, so maybe an email list would still be useful on here. I need to think on that. But for now, my problem is trying to get you, the reader, to find me in the first place, and then to keep coming back.

Some other things I’ve been mulling lately in regards to writing. 1) Where is the best place to publish something online? I’ve thought about publishing a short story of mine, uploading it for a free download and see what kind of traction it gets, and see if that helps my platform. Is Amazon the best route to go, and if so, does that discriminate against Ipad and Nook users? Is there a simple way to upload to all three, and/or should I worry about that? I’m not sure.

Also, 2) I want to write some short stories! I think that is the quickest way to reach out to you, my readers. But there’s a two-fold problem with that. a) I have limited time to write and ideally, I should be using that for my novel and other various stories I’d like to get professionally published and b) my strength is not in writing short stories. Whenever I try and write a short story, it ends up turning into more of a novella (8-10,000 + words), which I guess isn’t horrible for what I plan on using it for. But that still doesn’t eliminate problem a.

And finally, 3) I think I’m going to start up loading a video blog (or vlog, if you prefer) once a week, to give you guys and girls yet another way to connect with me. I think with the advances in technology, today’s writer needs to be more accessible to his/her readers, which includes using social media to their advantage. Also, with video blogging, it’s a quick way to give my viewers substance without taking up valuable writing time I could use on my stories. Ideally, I’d love to write all the time, but with a full-time job and a more-than-full time family, I have to find creative ways to make it all work.

I think that’s it for now, readers. Thanks for listening. I mean reading. Well you know what I mean.

Until Next Time, Keep Reading!
-MP

P.S. Only 48 days til Christmas, and 1 day until, for better or worse, the world changes forever.

“Holy Typos, Batman!”and Comparative Descriptions

Currently Reading: I finished Nicholas Sparks’ “Two by Two” this past Sunday. Awesome book, if you can get through the first 30 pages. They tend to lag on, but the rest of the book is pure joy. For the writers out there viewing this, have you ever heard the expression “Show, Don’t Tell,” which basically means use descriptive writing as opposed to just saying what happens? Well, the first 30 pages is a great example of telling, but not showing. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of paragraphs setting up the book, but rather than sitting you in the middle of a scene, it’s the narrator basically droning on about his life, but not actually telling you anything of substance. I thought this part was unnecessary. The rest of the book though? Typical Sparks. And I totally mean that in a good way if you enjoy his writing.

But Wow….talk about typos!! I have never seen anything like this in a Sparks book. Missed punctuation here, “he” instead of “she” there. At one point on page 438, it reads, “Monday was London’s last day of school before Winter Break.” Then on page 440: “Tuesday, London’s last day of Winter Break.” Dude, which is it?? I re-read those two pages four or five times, trying to decipher if I was misreading it, but I don’t think I was. Pretty unbelievable considering this isn’t a first-time writer at a dinky publisher, but instead a well-established author with a rich history of best sellers (including this one). Some of this falls on the author, sure, but grievances like this generally belong to the editor/publisher, I assume.

Now I’m onto “The Girl With All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey. I’m enjoying it so far as I’ve already eclipsed 150 pages in less than two days. Carey is actually a pen name, but the writer himself has a history of work for Marvel and DC Comics, among other publications. The fact that Carey is a seasoned veteran is obvious. I’m particularly impressed with his descriptive writing. I’m jealous of his use of what I like to call Comparative Descriptions. Example: “Seventy miles of England’s green and pleasant land, all gone to the hungries and as safe to wander in as it would be to dance a mazurka in a minefield.” Now, have I ever heard of the Mazurka? No, but the sentence is constructed in a way that I don’t have to.

If you’re interested, “The Girl With All the Gifts” is a post-apocalyptic story, set in what was once London, but is now overrun by Hungries (think Zombies), as the few human survivors try and find a cure. The titular Girl is a child zombie, waffling between her Hungrian instincts and her love of the humans, especially one in particular, her teacher Helen Justineau. I’m excited to see how it turns out.

On a sidenote: My wife J asked (I’m hoping in jest) if “The Girl With All the Gifts” is the sister of “The Girl on the Train” and if both of these girls are the daughters of “The Woman in Cabin 10.” I’m gonna go ahead and say, um, no.

Currently Writing: Wednesday is my best night to write, as J is prepping for a 5K this weekend with her mom, and they like to stroll our son E around the neighborhood while they power walk. So tonight should give me a solid 60-90 minutes to write. This will likely include some editing, but hopefully I can get into one of the short non-fiction pieces I’d like to explore that I mentioned in my last post. Also, I’m still waiting on a couple books that I ordered from Amazon, that I hope will assist me in successfully building my platform.

Distractions? Saturday was my first Auction Experience, as we visited my uncle’s auction house in the morning. J bid $2.00, and won a cookie jar. I got a set of wrenches for $12.50. All in all, I would call it a successful first venture. Let me just say that Auctions, Bingo Halls, and Yard Sales definitely bring out a unique group of individuals, and I’ll leave it at that. Sunday was football-stupid Eagles cost me valuable sleep because of poor coaching-and Monday, we strolled around my sister’s neighborhood with our son dressed as a bluebird. He was quite the trooper for being only 379 days old, but the candy selection itself was disappointing. I mean, seriously, applesauce??? Come on, people!! Bring on the giant chocolate bars, and gummy candies. Halloween is about creating cavities, not eating mushy fruit!! Oh well. Maybe next year.

Until next time, Keep Reading! My beard will be longer the next time I post as it is officially No-Shave November. You’ll just have to take my word on that.
-MP

When to Introduce “The Event,” and Building Your Platform

Currently Reading: So I’m 240 pages into “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks, a tantalizing average of about 120 words per day. If this pace continues, I could read an average book in about 3 days, which would translate to approximately 120 books per year. How awesome would that be?!? Unfortunately, this pace will not continue (see: Life, cross reference: Shit Happens). What can I attribute to the current blistering speed? Two things. 1)Nicholas Sparks is one of my all time favorite authors. Probably top two, running neck and neck with Richard Paul Evans. He creates characters that you remember when you put the book down, and you find yourself daydreaming about the world when you’re supposed to be working. He was the first writer that made me want to write books. He also writes the type of books that I find myself drawn to writing – both he and Evans are often categorized into Women’s Fiction, but oddly I’m OK with reading books from a writer that caters mostly to women readers.

2) I’m in a good rotation at work right now. Let me explain. So even though my job title mentions nothing about customer service, essentially that is what I do: take payments from customers whose utilities are powered by the city itself. My job rotates into 3 stations on a monthly basis: two inside the lobby and one in the drive thru. Station 1 in the Lobby’s main task is to wait on all the customers that walk in the door. Also, they are secondary to answering the phones that ring non stop. Station 2 in the Lobby’s main task is being primary on the phones, as well as processing all incoming mail payments, which on Mondays turns into a giant shit show of busyness that starts around 7:40 and doesn’t let up until after 4. Needless to say, I hate this rotation the most. Station 3 in the Drive Thru’s main task is to wait on the customers who do not want to get out of their cars and prefer quick, wait-free service. Also, the drive thru station is located on the other side of the building, isolated from everyone, so it’s just you, a tiny enclosed room, and the radio. Can you guess which I love the most? So when the customers don’t come to the drive-thru and the phone isn’t ringing off the hook (yes, I’m still required to answer the phone there), I’m able to read, something not afforded in either of the other two stations. So if your work is caught up inside, you sit and stare at the wall waiting for a customer. In the drive thru, the head honchos aren’t around to spy and make sure you don’t look bored. So I read, and read a lot. Hence my progress.

“Two by Two” is one of Sparks’ best books in my opinion, but I’m surprised at how long it took to reach The Event. The Event is what occurs in every book (child goes missing, dead body turns up, etc.), and is usually mentioned in the book jacket when describing said book. Typically, The Event occurs in the first 50 pages and the rest of the book depicts the aftermath. But in “Two by Two,” I didn’t hit The Event until about page 220. It made me question whether or not I misread the book’s description or, at the very least, misinterpreted it. It’s just unheard of to be 50% into a book and wondering when something is going to occur that you’ve been waiting for since Page 1. In any event, as a Wannabe Writer, it’s good for me to see different ways to approach The Event and decide what works best for me and my novel.

The fun thing now about reading an author you’ve already read at least 15 times, you develop a fun game in predicting the outcome of the rest of the book. I’ll let you know if I was right or not.

Currently Writing: On Tuesday, I looked into a small, local publisher as perhaps a venue to launch my novel “Off the Record” that I completed several years ago. Upon investigating their submission form, I realized it was more complicated than I thought. I assumed it’d be a quick query letter and submitting a pdf file. Instead, there are in-depth questions regarding BISAC codes and whether or not you have your own publicist. I’ve decided I need to do a better job of building my platform. So on Tuesday, I found some books I wanted to read because right now, my online presence/platform is non-existent, and that is not good. In addition, I want to really think about my answers to these questions, because I probably have one shot with this publisher. So that’s where I stand right now: working on building my platform, which likely will include some redesigns to this blog. But don’t worry! I’ll still be bloggin’. I’ll also be editing/rewriting “Off the Record” as it stands, as well as editing/writing/rewriting another story I’m looking to publish. In addition, I recently thought of some short non-ficiton pieces I’d like to put to paper and see what they look like, because I think they have a potential viewership in the online market as well. So that’s what will be happening in the near future.

Distractions: None. Can you believe that? Ok, so it’s probably a lie. But I don’t consider “spending time with my family” a distraction. On Monday, we  visited a raggedy Pumpkin Patch because my wife J insisted on finding a pumpkin to carve for our 1-year old son E who will never remember this experience except by the endless pictures J decides to take, which will inevitably include several unflattering shots of Yours Truly that I hope don’t find their way onto any Social Media outlets. But who am I kidding? I actually enjoy carving the pumpkin. I love the smell of the inside once you cut the top off, and I love how slimy the seeds and innards are when you squish them between your fingers.

And because I love this, I was willing to drive out of my way on Monday afternoon in the cold and windy conditions; park my precious Rogue into a shady field; push my son’s stroller over a rickety, dirt path into a patch that looks like it’s where pumpkins go to die; ;carefully step over the broken pumpkins into uncharted territory that probably includes bugs that will eat at my sweet skin, while my wife and son wait patiently in the safe part of the patch; rip the only decent looking pumpkin off the vine with my bare hands like the Hulk because I don’t have tools, all the while pricking my fingers; drag the 10 lber back across said patch and hope that I don’t fall onto my face; kneel down so I can pose in the Patch of Horrors with my son; pose again because J didn’t like the light in picture 1; pose again because E moved slightly in Picture 2 (have I mentioned J is a P.P. -Photographing Perfectionist?); and then pay $12.00 dollars for The Experience of a Lifetime. J insists these will be memories we cherish lately, and really who am I to argue?

…but then again, $12 could have bought me a new paperback….damn.

Until Next Time, Keep Reading!!
-MP

 

The Last 48 Days

Currently Reading: Well, I finally finished “A Man Called Ove” (hopefully, right? It’s only been a month and a half!). I was pleasantly surprised; however, the ending did drag a little bit, and was also kind of predictable. Still, I like Backman’s writing style, would recommend this book, and would certainly read another one – he has at least two other published books out already.

After finishing “Ove,” I blew through “Love and Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch. I was hesitant to read this book because of my own stubbornness: Jenna is the daughter of well-known author, Richard Paul Evans. The elder Evans is one of my favorite authors. Ever. I had a feeling this book would be good, but a nagging question ate at me: would “Love and Gelato” ever have been published if her father wasn’t well-documented? After all, her agent, Laurie Liss, is the same agent that represents Richard Paul Evans. What bothers me about this is what this means to me: sometimes, the book that gets published isn’t the best book, but it’s written by the person that has the “In.” It’s the same reason I’m bothered when I see a book by Joe Hill in prime position on a bookstore shelf. And it dates back to my high school years, when the “best athletes” on your high school teams were the ones who had parents that were well known within the community, not the ones with the most talent. It’s the harsh reality that Publishing is a business, and sometimes, it’s all about Who You Know. And unfortunately, I don’t know many people in the publishing business. I didn’t stay in touch with my writing professors from college, at least two of whom that have been published. But even if I did stay in good contact with them, is that how I wish to be successful? By piggy-backing the success of others? I don’t know. But it would certainly make my life a lot easier than it currently is.

Now wait!! Don’t get me wrong! This “Rant of the Slain” as I like to call the above paragraph does not in any way diminish the quality of “Love and Gelato” by Mrs. Welch. The book is a phenomenal YA read and makes me want to jet on over to Italy pronto (Wait, is that word even Italian? Ah, who knows). Welch has created characters that you remember when you shut the book. Characters that you think about while you’re at work. She’s created a world that parallels your own, a world you’d like to escape into, and are more than happy to dive into once the workday is over. That, folks, is damn good writing. Her father has that talent, and clearly she does too. “Love and Gelato” is a book not to be missed, and I love that you don’t have to be an 18-year old girl to enjoy it, even if the main character is. The only downfall is that “Love and Gelato” is Welch’s first book to be published, so we will have to wait awhile to read another.

Next on the reading list: “Two by Two” by another of my favorite writers, Nicholas Sparks. I read recently that Sparks’ movie production company has shut down, so “The Choice” may in fact be the last book brought to the Big Screen. This is truly a shame, because even though “The Choice” performed poorer compared to other Sparks’ blockbusters, it was one of the better adaptations, staying truer to the book than even its successful predecessors, “The Notebook,” “Dear John,” “Walk to Remember” and “The Best of Me” just to name a few.

Currently Writing: Well, not much, unfortunately. However, my brain has not stopped working, as I have thought up two more ideas (one being a screenplay I’d like to try someday), as well as the opening line of a novel that I thought up while eating dinner, though I don’t know the story behind that line yet.Here’s my problem: the ability to focus. I have several ideas up in the ol’ noggin that I’d like to put on paper, but I don’t know which to devote the majority of my free time to, and even when I decide where to place my focus, several other ideas jump into my head, and I don’t want to lose them, so I feel I need to get as much information about said idea down on paper before it escapes me. Does anyone else have this problem? It’s like Author A.D.D., but I’m pretty sure no good doctor on earth will write me a prescription to cure this. Maybe I just need to cut back on caffeine?

Distractions That Prevented Healthy Writing: Well, in a word? Me! I haven’t been my best writing self in the last 45 days. Saturday the 22nd was my birthday, and I took the next two business days (Monday and Today) off, and am finally able to sit down and do a little blogging/writing.

However, if I wanted you to feel sorry for me, I would tell you that work is a tough distraction. I work in Customer Service and more often than not, I’ll have a day where someone comes in and yells or complains about how bad city government is, and that their electric bill is way too damned expensive, and that they should be able to pay it later than 3 weeks past their due date, and we’re just cruel and hateful people because we shut off their service for lack of payment. And what is my allowed response? Smile and Nod. They call you a name? Smile and Nod. They swear? Smile and Nod.

Now look, folks. I…LOVE people! Why do you think I want to write these books and do this full time? So people can read them, enjoy them, and escape from the problems in their own life like I do when I read a good book. But working in customer service is tough. It wears. You. Down. When you come home dejected and devoid of energy, how do you muster the courage to write productive pages that aren’t just sad and angry gibberish? Too often, I come home and crash in front of the television, thankful just to be at home with people that love me, rather than at work dealing with people who, well, don’t exactly care about my well being.

I’m a tough guy, though. Don’t worry about my state of mind. But if you read this, I wouldn’t mind if you sent good thoughts my way, ESP-style, encouraging me to come home and find the energy to write, write, write! That’s the only way I’m going to change the world, right?

Until Next Time – and I promise it will be less than 48 days – KEEP READING!!
-mp